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Seven Steps to Teach Summary Writing

Although teaching summarizing is a valuable strategy and competency but it is one of the hardest strategies for students to grasp and one of the hardest strategies for you to teach.

Can you imagine your students succeeding in school without being able to break down content into manageable small brief pieces? We ask students to summarize all the time, but we’re terrible about teaching them good ways to do this!

You have to repeatedly model it and give your students enough time and opportunities to practice it.

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What Is Summarizing?

Summarizing is how we take larger selections of text and reduce them to their bare essentials: the gist, the key ideas, the main points that are worth noting and remembering.

Webster Dictionary defines a summary as the “general idea in a brief form”. It’s the condensation, or reduction of a larger work into its primary notions.

What Are We Doing When We Summarize?

We strip away the extra verbiage and extraneous examples. We focus on the heart of the matter. We try to find the keywords and phrases that express the gist of what we’ve read. We are trying to capture the main ideas and the crucial details that are necessary for supporting them.

How Can You Teach Your Students to Summarize?

  1. Take articles from the newspaper, and cut off their headlines. Have students practice writing headlines for (or matching the severed headlines to) the “headless” stories.
  2. Take one article from the newspaper and ask students to use the keywords or phrases to identify only Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
  3. Give the students a piece of paper including a reading text and ask them to read the text.
  4. After reading the text, ask students to turn the sheet over and attempt to create a summary paragraph of what they can remember of the key ideas in the text.
  5. Ask students to go back and forth between the summary they write and the reading text several times until they capture the important ideas from the text
  6. Have students write successively shorter summaries, constantly refining and reducing their written piece until only the most essential and relevant information remains.
  7. Encourage students to start off with half a page; then try to get it down to two paragraphs; then one paragraph; then two or three sentences; and ultimately a single sentence.

To Sum It Up

You should have your students imagine they are placing a classified ad or sending a telegram, where every word used costs them money. You can adjust the amount they have to spend, and therefore the length of the summary, according to the text they are summarizing.

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